The street is covered with people of all ages waving colourful flags. A person asks loud: “What do you want?” The crowd screams: “CLIMATE JUSTICE!” The person: “When do you want it?” All: “NOW!” – The air is vibrant, filled with a sense of solidarity and decidedness.
Extinction Rebellion asks for climate justice all over the World. People block streets, bridges, buildings and squares; as long as they can. Some even chain or glue themselves onto the places. The people sit, sing, dance and talk. They hold each other.
This new movement of civil disobedience started in England in 2018 and is growing rapidly all over the World. People peacefully rebel against the climate breakdown and extinction of species. The groups ask the governments to say the truth, take effective actions and enlarge the democratic system with citizen assemblies.
On the day the first big action of Extinction Rebellion (XR) started in Berlin on the 7th of October 2019, I went to a talk on the “Climate Camp”. Charles Eisenstein was there, which was exciting as he had a strong influence on the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 based on the ideas of his book Sacred Economics.
Charles Eisenstein was now in Berlin, as to inaugurate the actions of Extinction Rebellion in Germany. That morning most of the “Rebels” were already busy at the two first blockades of central traffic knots. Only a small group of people was sitting on the improvised benches in front of the stage. A pity, as Charles views are empowering and filling hearts with hope. He started the talk with a calm and clear tone:
“This is a universal rebellion. You are not just standing up against climate change. Your motivation comes from a deeper place. It comes from the feeling that something in our lives and society is “wrong”. When I was a child, it felt wrong to sit inside rather than playing outdoors in the sun. Most of the people hate Mondays. Our hearts know, that this is not supposed to be like that.”
A Universal Rebellion for Life
This resonated with me. I often have the feeling that something is deeply wrong in our World. Especially when I see videos showing how the amazon is burned to make space for soy fields. Or when I see agonising birds covered with oil. Children surrounded by plastic, playing on open land fields. The empty eyes and resigned faces of people commuting to work. This cannot be the peak of the development of our society.
Charles continued: “Climate change, the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems, the radicalisation of politics, extremism, increasing rates of suicides, depressions and burn-outs are all symptoms of the same problem. If climate change is a symptom what is the root cause?
The root cause of climate change is the belief that we are Separate
The root cause lies in the story, the mythology, our society is embedded in. The present, “Old Story”, is based on the idea of Separation. I am a separate self in a world of separate selves. If you are sick, but I am not, it doesn’t affect me. If I want something I have to exercise force to get it. I need to protect myself and fight for my life. By using causality and logic I can explain and direct what happens in the World.”
When looking at the World from such a story, to have an influence, to “stop climate change”, I need to use force. I will try to understand all processes influencing and regulating the climate system. Then based on logic and measurable connections I will focus my attention on a leverage point.
The underlying assumption behind this logic is that the Earth is like a complex machine that I can control through the right interventions. If I fail, it is because I did not intervene in the right point, in the right way.
If we reduce the Earth to a machine, can we fix it?
As the climate is an extremely complex system, we also tend to reduce the complexity to something simpler and actionable. We, for instance, focus our efforts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The belief is that if we manage to reduce net emissions to zero we will “be safe”, we will have “won the battle”.
The challenge of this reductionist approach is that we always leave out something. There are things we are not aware of, things we cannot measure or explain with logic.
Does it matter to save the whales?
What is the value of saving the whales? We will agree that they are cute, seeing a mom whale swimming with her baby is just heartwarming. But we are having an urgent climate crisis to deal with. We should focus our efforts on building more wind turbines. What is the benefit of saving the wales in terms of CO2 anyway?
Can you imagine to leave the whales to die out without doing anything? I can’t. I consider myself to be a rational person and an impact-driven environmental scientist. However knowing that there are only 10% of large fish left in the oceans and that we are not far from having the wales gone from Earth scares me, it shocks me. I almost don’t want to believe it as a real possibility. The idea of it happening feels too sad and wrong to be able to cope with it.
Is saving the wales less urgent than reducing CO2 emissions? Finally, Charles Eisenstein explained that scientists found out that wales have an important function in the climate system. As they dive deep they bring up nutrients to upper layers when they poop and pee. So they regulate the plankton growth and influence the mixing of the water, which impacts the pH level of the ocean and its capacity to store CO2. Actually, whales have a climate impact. So let’s save the whales.
Charles warned: “When we reduce a complex system, we will always leave something out. Often what matters the most.”
Reconciling the mind and the heart
What if, instead of trying to measure and control everything we would put life at the centre of our decision-making? What if we would save the wales because they are beautiful and make us feel joyful? Our hearts know that the World without the wales is a less beautiful world, an Earth that is less alive.
What if we would not think of the Earth as a machine, but as a living being? If we would trust our intuition that it is important to save the whales and stand up for them? Would we still build wind turbines? Maybe. But the decision-making would come from a different place. Maybe we would rank our priorities differently. What seems urgent from a view coming from a story of separation, may seem irrelevant from a new story.
What should we focus our efforts on?
If we accept the invitation of Charles Eisenstein to seeing the Earth as a living being, rather than a machine, the priority of our environmental crisis is to “stopping destroying the organs of the Earth”.
The organs of the Earth are its ecosystems: the forests, wetlands, aquifers, steppes, etc. They play crucial roles in absorbing and regulating greenhouse gases. They are the ones defining when the tipping points of negative climate feedback loops are overstepped. In its essence: “Life creates the conditions for life.” If we kill the life of the ecosystems of the Earth, to some extent we also kill our own life. To some extent, we may ourselves be less alive.
Stop killing, regenerate and heal the Earth
1. Stop the destruction of the ecosystem, support and start conservation projects, especially of pristine ecosystems.
2. Regenerate the capacity of the Earth to create the conditions for life. This is about restoring and healing the damage done. It includes all beings, also human beings. It includes what is starting to happen within regenerative cultures, regenerative economies and businesses. The reason to be, the mission, of a regenerative business is for instance to heal the lives of everyone it gets in touch with – without being a hospital! (see Regenerative Business Post)
3. Stop spreading toxic chemicals on the land through agriculture practices and dissemination of waste materials. They are in their own way alienating the capacity of life to be alive.
But “We need to stop CO2 emissions, now!”
I was surprised by the priorities Charles laid out. Stopping CO2 emissions seems to be the biggest thing of our times. “We need to stop the emissions, NOW. Otherwise, it will be too late.” This is the main message we hear.
It is formulated like an order, it makes arise fear (what will happen if we don’t do it?), resistance (who are you to tell me what I should do?), and powerlessness (the big guys in power will not do it, we are fried) in me.
This makes me feel stressed and under pressure. It doesn’t help me to get ideas about how we can co-initiate the transformative, systemic change I want to contribute to.
Instead ask: “Am I serving life with this action?”
Charles brings a new perspective on the discourse by moving the focus away from measuring and maximizing the impact in terms of CO2. He invites each of us to sincerely ask: “Am I serving life with this action?”.
You don’t need to believe in climate change or to be an environmentalist to ask yourself this question. Everyone can do it. Finding a sincere answer leads us to an unknown place. A place in which we admit to ourselves, that we don’t really know.
By holding on to the question, taking time, waiting, we allow ourselves to listen to a voice coming from a different place. The answers emerge from the heart, carries clarity and commitment.
At this point, the mind, the logic, our optimising and process-oriented skills are of great service. The help to drive actions that are in service of life, and by being so are transformative.
Here you can watch the complete talk from Charles Eisenstein at the Extinction Rebellion Camp